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Stephen Oliver


We secrete ourselves behind
our mythologies ­ no question!

better mileage than hiding behind a tissue
of lies. History claims us, if we are lucky, in the end.

You made your mark then stepped
out of youth's circle, away from that campfire,
and into the dark ­

a shuffle amongst memory's leaves.
Through the rain the Sunday bell tolls over rooftops.

You've done it then ­ like the pied-piper of Hamelin,
walked into the hills of home, you and your tune,

a regular confederate attended
by innumerable ghosts, alone.

Man Alone. Last Man Standing.

The perfect patriot to the heart's drum shadowed
against your past in mythic retreat.
Dead Man Walking.

Seems your soul got caught up in the branches
of that pohutukawa tree at Cape Reinga ­ hangs

there like a busted kite that no wind from between
the stars can rescue.

The ivory tower has become an oubliette.

The White Goddess unceasingly builds her
nest out of horse's hair - the broken bones of poets,
in the fork of an oak or kauri.

Ego imploded: from epiphany-to-catatonia
in an instant: you saw your love as an unattainable,
distant sentiment.

The puritan spirit cried out aloud,
"No truce with the Furies".

That imagined vertigo is the slow free-fall
of a sycamore seed spinning unseen
behind an abandoned church.


The posse out to hunt down
God's kingdom,
hoofbeats respond to

the plains like shibboleth
and testing ground for those who

hear the coming of the Word.

Prayer is a vast silence that
follows hard upon an auto accident.

A breeze twitches in the joints
of trees, something scuttles through

the grass within earshot.

Arguments bunch and abound on
the horizon,
darkening the day's mood.

The moon barks its shins against
a tree stump.

Dugouts and trenches in cloudbanks -
a machinegun nest of lightning busies itself

in one corner of the sky - empty,
except for the blazed signature at dawn.

(Sounding a sonnet for B.J & Associates)

He accumulated fans each new shift:
Punk, reggae, indie, maybe some swamp rock,
Pumped hip-hop and motown and techno rift;
He timed the hits to the top of the clock -

While every other night of the week
Sorted the hot-spots and the top-shelf tart:
And though he figured as the total freak
Could work the women with a salesman's art.

Sexual conquests confirmed the cliché,
The white convertible, black top, the blonde
Caught the marble-eyed gaze of the DJ;
Without a doubt he felt that he belonged.

The cowboy: Drifter on the fm Band?
Give him his due, the drugs and one night stand.


A restaurant with fountain and water-clock
Comprised one plan for a shut down toilet block -
Domed like a mosque, chained, under padlock;
Enshrined as the Taj Mahal.

Years long and rusty this privy stood disused,
Many a gland, they say, was here defused;
Such gentlemen taken short were not amused -
Preyed on at the Taj Mahal.

Came here the councillors plans to invent,
They prayed that success would be heaven sent;
But know their bowels were as thrifty as lent,
Squatting in the Taj Mahal.

The saturated walls soon gave short shrift
To new laid plans when the precincts were sniffed -
Many shed a tear over schemes gone adrift,
To jazz up the Taj Mahal.

A smart Greek suggested a drive-in car wash,
So why go down-market when you can go posh?
It's all one to derros - they don't give a toss,
Pissing on the Taj Mahal.

Oh, the writing, it's certain, was on the wall,
Though not all such sentiments were shared by all -
Still, drains will gurgle after heavy rainfall,
In troughs by the Taj Mahal.

If the walls of Jericho fell to the trumpet;
Know that these will stand or fall on their merit,
No matter what gay boy sets out to mourn it -
Lost days at the Taj Mahal.

Some dream of precious stones from far away,
Some of amethyst, or onyx with pearl inlay,
Some of greenstone from down Hokitika way;
To brighten the Taj Mahal.

If fire engines scream, and the traffic roars by,
And walls have ears, though you cannot guess why -
Take a glass of chablis beneath a domed sky,
To salute the Taj Mahal.

The public toilet block known as the 'Taj Mahal' designed by architects of the Wellington City Engineering Office was built in 1928. The building's design is not without a certain, architectural humour; its curved north and south end walls, each capped with a dome, resemble that of a 'mosque'. This quasi-imperial style is listed on the Heritage Inventory as 'Inter War Free Classical'. The edifice functioned as a WCC public toilet for forty years and finally closed in 1966. Fortunately, a strong public outcry saved the building from demolition. For about a decade it was used as storage space for nearby Downstage theatre. In 1978, after extensive renovations, the Taj Mahal reopened as an Art Gallery and Patisserie and became, latterly, a restaurant. Environmental artists, Terry Archer and David Waterman, were commissioned to paint a fresco (Muldoon's visage peers troll-like from the puffy clouds) on the northern dome ceiling by the owner, Cynthia Cass, who bought the property in 1980. The building remains a significant cultural landmark, though continues to serve as a 'public bar' under shifting ownership and name.


Stephen Oliver b. 1950. Grew in Brooklyn-west, Wellington, New Zealand. Author of six major collections of poetry, including: Night of Warehouses: Poems 1978-2000, HeadworX Publishers, 2001. One year Magazine Journalism course, Wellington Polytechnic. Radio NZ Broadcasting School. Casual Radio Actor. Lived in Paris, Vienna, London, San Francisco, Greece and Israel. Signed on with the radio ship, The Voice of Peace broadcasting in the Mediterranean out of Jaffa. Free lanced as production voice, newsreader, announcer, voice actor, journalist, copy and features writer. Poems widely represented in New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, USA, UK, South Africa, Canada, etc. Recently published, DEADLY POLLEN, a poetry chapbook, Word Riot Press, (USA) 2003. Ballads, Satire & Salt - A Book of Diversions, Greywacke Press, 2003. Forthcoming: a CD of poems titled: KING HIT - Selected Readings ­ written and read by Stephen Oliver to original music composed by Matt Ottley, for international release. Stephen is a transtasman poet and writer who lives in Sydney.

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